August 29, 2005

Unsecured Asian radioactive waste risks dirty bomb

By James Grubel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian nuclear experts raised
concerns on Monday that unsecured sources of radioactive waste
in medical centers in Southeast Asia could be used by militants
to build a "dirty bomb."

Experts from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology
Organization (ANSTO), who have checked radioactive waste in
Southeast Asia for the past year, said cobalt was found
unsecured in two countries after radiation therapy centers

"This is all to do with preventing there ever being a dirty
bomb," ANSTO chief of operations Ron Cameron told Reuters.

"The more we can get sources in control, the more we can
have a reassurance that there isn't material out there that
could be used for a malicious purpose."

About 25 other radiation centers are being investigated in
a third country, The Australian newspaper reported on Monday.

Cameron declined to name the countries involved, but said
Asian governments needed to do more to guarantee the safe
disposal of the material, common in cancer treatments in major

He said without stronger security and disposal rules, there
was a risk militants could find the radioactive material and
use it to build a weapon capable of contaminating a large area
of a major city.

Conventional explosives wrapped around radioactive material
could make a so-called dirty bomb, which would do little
immediate damage but could spread radioactive material across a
city, causing panic and an increase in cancer rates.

Cameron said radioactive cobalt and caesium were the most
common materials, and were used in the mining and gas
industries and in radiation treatment for cancer patients.

A team of 10 ANSTO experts are training officials from 11
Southeast Asian and Pacific island nations under a three-year
program to help countries find and secure radioactive waste.

Cameron said most radioactive material was strictly
controlled and it would be difficult for militants to identify
and procure enough material to do build an effective dirty

"But if you locate a source (of material), the threat of
doing it or the claim you have done it would cause a lot of
damage," he said.

"A dirty bomb is not a weapon of mass destruction, it is a
weapon of mass disruption," he said.

ANSTO is Australia's nuclear research and development
organization. It runs Australia's only nuclear reactor, which
produces radioactive products for medical use.